January 13, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

If you’re not quite sure what it means to get an award from the National Society of Film Critics, the National Board of Review, or one of the other groups on the ever-expanding list of movie award-givers, you’re not the only one. But we can help. Here’s a guide to who’s voting for these prizes, what their credentials are, and their value as Oscar prognosticators. At least now you’ll really know how to interpret our annual scorecard of movie awards.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
WHO THEY ARE Academy members are industry insiders — actors, directors, producers, and technical crew folk.
WHO VOTES There are about 5,800 voting members.
MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS Your résumé must include an Oscar nomination or another significant movie credit, but you don’t have to be a currently active filmmaker, which is why Academy membership seems to skew old.
IMPORTANT DATES Nominations: Jan 31; Ceremony: March 5, Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre (airs on ABC).

Boston Society of Film Critics
WHO THEY ARE One of the first critics groups to vote each year, the BSFC consists of critics for Boston-area print and broadcast outlets.
WHO VOTES About 18 members
MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS You must be an actively publishing critic and must be voted in by current members.
IMPORTANT DATES Awards announced: Dec. 11
CRYSTAL BALL QUOTIENT Low. The BSFC favors indie and art-house fare, though it claims credit for putting some dark horse candidates on the map, like 2002 Oscar winner Adrien Brody, who earned his first American prize for The Pianist from the BSFC.

Broadcast Film Critics Association
WHO THEY ARE The BFCA calls its prizes the Critics’ Choice Awards, though only some of its members are critics. Others are entertainment reporters and celebrity interviewers. All work for TV, radio, and online outlets.
WHO VOTES With nearly 200 members, the BFCA has claimed to be the largest of the critics’ groups.
MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS You must regularly issue ”subjective assessments” (if not full-fledged reviews) of movies before a large audience on TV, radio, or the Internet and must be voted in by current members.
IMPORTANT DATES Nominations: Dec. 11; Ceremony: Jan. 9, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (airs on The WB)
CRYSTAL BALL QUOTIENT High. Their mainstream taste and Globe-like shotgun approach to the nominations ensure that there’ll be an Oscar winner in there somewhere. The BFCA has correctly picked the Best Picture Oscar winner five of the last six years.

Chicago Film Critics Association
WHO THEY ARE Windy City critics for print, TV, and online outlets
WHO VOTES About 60 members
MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS You must be an actively publishing critic and must be voted in by current members.
IMPORTANT DATES Nominations: Dec. 30; Awards announced: Jan. 9
CRYSTAL BALL QUOTIENT Low. The Chicagoans like indie films and new talent that Oscar voters may not yet have spotted.

Directors Guild of America
WHO THEY ARE Hollywood’s union of movie and TV directors, including many of those who make up the directors’ branch of the Academy
FOUNDED The awards began in 1949
WHO VOTES The Guild membership of about 12,000
MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS Active Guild members must be directors employed by firms with Guild contracts and must pay dues based on income.
IMPORTANT DATES Nominations announced: Jan. 5; Ceremony: Jan. 28, at the Century Plaza Hilton in Los Angeles
CRYSTAL BALL QUOTIENT High. Only six times in its 56-year history has the DGA failed to predict the Oscar winner for Best Director, who is usually the director of the Best Picture as well. Then again, two of those discrepancies came in the last five years. (The DGA picked Martin Scorsese to win for Gangs of New York instead of The Pianist‘s Roman Polanski, and it picked Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s Ang Lee over Traffic‘s Steven Soderbergh.)

Hollywood Foreign Press Association
WHO THEY ARE The Golden Globes group consists of entertainment journalists who write full-time or part-time for overseas newspapers and magazines.
WHO VOTES There are about 90 members.
MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS You must be an actively publishing journalist (you can be a writer or photographer) covering the entertainment industry and must be voted in by current members.
IMPORTANT DATES Nominations: Dec. 13; Ceremony: Jan. 16, Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills (airs on NBC)
CRYSTAL BALL QUOTIENT Moderately high. HFPA members are perennially accused of being star-struck and nominating performers who’ll increase the glamour quotient at the banquet (how else to explain Nicole Kidman’s nomination for Birth last year?). Still, their splitting of the film categories into dramas and comedies doubles the group’s chances of being right about the top Oscars.

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